Not again, not in my roughest nightmare, I can’t stand it any longer, going back to that household is the last thing my body will ever be subjected to.
The car I boarded is not moving the way I want, there is this uneasiness building up within me, and the warmth of my father’s house is the only thing I want. After what seemed like a lifetime, the car finally stopped by the side of our village primary school. Nothing had changed, I crossed the road, and I stood in front of our little village market; I recollected every Wednesday night, after the market, we will assemble at the market square and we will dance to the sweet melodies coming from the “kabulu” musicians. I passed the first house facing the market, but there is no one, except the children that are playing, most of the adults are at the farm. My father’s house is minutes away and I can see my little brother playing with our stepsister. I move closer, they see me and quickly run towards me. They had definitely missed me, we hug and I bent down asking them how everyone is faring, I can not believe it is three months since I left home. I remember those joyful times when I and my sisters will go fetching water early in the evening and we will bath till our eyes turned red when we will go to the farm during the harvest season, and sing on our way home with loads of yam on our head. Those times were the happiest in my life, but the marriage was not what my mum told me it was going to be, it wrecked my life. I enter our compound, and the emptiness is overwhelming. My stomach is literally empty, and there is no money on me, I enter my mother’s kitchen to see if I can get the leftovers of yesterday’s “tuwo”, luckily the pot on the fireplace is full. I eat to my satisfaction and I am back in my mother’s room.
Darkness is steadily descending, people are beginning to flock back home, and the village is back to life again. I take the broom from my mum’s kitchen and sweep the whole compound including my father’s chambers where he receives visitors. The memories of how the chambers shaped my life still remain fixed in my mind, when I was sent-off for marriage without my consent, the whole event unfolded in that little room, it was as if the destiny of every member of my family was tucked in that creepy looking chamber. Finally, the members of my family are back, fear is now taking over the gallantry that made me run away from my woes, I owed everyone an explanation. Everyone is surprised to see me back home, it is not ideal in my village for a young girl married for a few months to come back to her father’s house without any candid reason. My mother is looking at me with doubtful eyes, but the issue is too serious for me to discuss with anyone, and apart from that as tradition stresses, my father is the head and the first person to contact if there is any problem in my marriage. He goes into his chambers and I follow to greet him, he is resting on his armchair with his head facing up, old age is gradually becoming apparent in my father, the once strong man I grew up to see around the house is growing into a frail old man, I greet him and he answers saying hope everything is alright, but I know it is a mere formality, he of all people knows I looked troubled. I say yes and went back to help my mum with the evening meal. Back in the kitchen, my mum’s inquisitive eyes are piercing every bit of my body, but I am firm on not telling her anything but she whispers into my ears that I am pregnant, one of my secrets is out but the important part is still hidden. She appears happy with her new discovery, yet she knows not that in this pregnancy lounged my sequence of glitches.
I felt ruined, I was crying but my rapist was yet to have his fill.
Night has enveloped the scenery of my little village, the little ones are cuddled in between their mothers’ laps and silence is beginning to descend on the once striving and bubbling atmosphere, the last set of my father’s friends in his chambers are about to leave and I know I would be summoned by him. My mother taps me on my shoulder and says my father has sent for me, I feel a lump settle in my throat and my limbs want to crumble, I cannot just run away from my husband’s house without convincing him on why I left. I enter the hut and my father is still seated on his armchair while my mother and her co-wife are seated on the handwoven mat, I sit down, my head looking down. My father stares at me for a while, and then he breaks the silence. ‘’Why have you chosen to bring shame into this household?’’
He goes on to talk about how happily married my other sisters are in their husband’s house, how peaceful they are living without coming back home. I absorb every inch of his scolding without arguing, because I know after he is done with his long speech, he’ll give me a chance to tell my own side of the story. Finally, he casts his gaze upon my innocent face and whispers.
I keep quiet for a little while and with that I start my story.
My travail started a night after my wedding, my friends and others that accompanied me to my husband’s house had left and I was looking forward to what my mother had nicknamed my first night. The first night slipped away and nothing happened, I was taken aback at first and was ashamed to ask my husband why, it got to a point where I had to voice my displeasure at what was unfolding, it fell on deaf ears. I was in a deep problem and there was no one to talk over it with, it was too early to start complaining to anyone that I was having issues in a marriage that was barely a week old. Finally, something bad happened. It was midnight, I was fast asleep with my husband beside me, when I heard the door of the room open, a man walked in and within a twinkle of an eye, he overpowered me and was on top of me with a knife threatening that he would stab me if I tried to make any sound. I was immersed in fear but what even compounded my problem was the fact that my husband was right beside me and did not wake up. After my unfruitful struggle, I gave in and felt his hands on my hips, his fingers tore my clothes away and I could feel them on my bare skin before I could say anything he had to unzip his trousers and was inside me. I felt ruined, I was crying but my rapist was yet to have his fill. He continued like that for a long time and at last, he came. He stood up and left. Morning came and my eyes were as red as burning coal, my husband saw this but he did not ask any question.
After the rape, things did not become normal again, I suspected almost all the men that stared at me when I passed, and I thought that all the women that looked at me knew what happened that night. All I wanted to know was who did it, what his reason was and why my husband didn’t wake up. The rapist came back again after three nights, but this time around he was willing to disclose his identity, he was not with the mask he used the other night. I looked at him with horror, my husband’s father was right before me, before I could utter anything he dragged me from the bed and was on top of me in no time, I wanted to scream, but once again his large arm was on my lips. My struggling became too violent and he landed me a hard slapped on my cheek, I felt blood on my lips. Before I could recover, he had woken my husband and my husband was abetting him in this treacherous act. My assault went on and on until my father in-law came in me again. I was lying on the floor and my husband took me back to the bed. I lived with hidden shame and I could not disclose it to anyone, my husband and his father had both threatened that if I told anyone, they will kill me and destroy my further. I dwelt and suffered in silence, and then pregnancy came, how I was going to face people with this incestuous and disgraceful issue became a mystery. I made up my mind to run away from this problem, and I came home. I still can’t explain my husband’s role in everything that happened.
My mother collapses after I finish narrating what happened, how is she going to face the villagers, it will be appalling that her daughter had an incestuous affair, no one will blame my father in law, they will say I flaunted myself freely in front of him, they will call me all sought of names. My father swears to deal with my father in law, he says I will never go back to that house again. He goes on to lament on how he forced me into a marriage I never wanted. I leave my mother and my stepmother in my father’s chambers and go to bed, but again I wake up to another bombshell, my father in law has sued us to court and is demanding that my father returns all the money he spent for my marriage since I am no longer interested in the whole affair.
My Father’s face that morning looks devastating, the court clerk has just left and he is holding the white paper in his hand, his wrinkles are becoming more evident. I cannot read since education is not significant for girls in my village. Zagi, the local primary school teacher, who I had a thing for was summoned; the letter is beyond the comprehension of my brothers who are still struggling with reading in school. We are to appear before the judge of the local magistrate court to answer why I left the house without any justifiable reason and why I wasn’t sent back by my father. The letter also states that my father is to refund the money spent on the wedding since I was fixed on leaving. Everybody in my house cried that day; it is like the day my father’s first son died. He had gone to the farm, when he ran back sweating profusely, he collapsed on entering the house, he was bitten by a snake on his way to the farm, instead of sitting down and tying his leg so that the venom would not spread to other parts of his body and wait for help from any passer-by, he resorted to run back to the village. Before he could reach home, the die was cast, the venom had spread, the last thing he said was; ‘’It was a black snake’’.
The day for the court came, very early in the morning we are already in front of the main road that passed through my village, my father, my step mum and I. Luckily for us, a pickup van belonging to a village close to ours was making an early morning trip with yam seedlings to the “Kuta” market. At exactly 7 am, we are in the court premises, the court environs is still quiet, but a handful of people have gathered, this court is especially known for dissolving marriages, my father’s marriage with a troublesome Hausa woman from the far northern city of Sokoto was dissolved here. I can see my husband and his father from afar, but they completely divert when they see us. My stepmother and I find a bench under a shea butter tree and we sit down, while my father is exchanging pleasantries with a friend of his. The court starts a few minutes into midday; the judge arrives walking majestically like someone who has just been given a barn full of yam as a gift. Our case is first and we are called into his office, he is sitting on a wooden chair and a table is placed in front of him, big books that look like things which can take years to flip through are on the table, there is also a stack of files neatly arranged. Two plastic chairs are facing him, my father sits on one and my father in law sits on the other, my step Mother, my husband and I, stand behind them. The judge takes a file, flips through the contents inside and asks my father in law to explain what happened, he goes on to blab about how much my wedding cost them and how wicked I am to desert the marriage that is barely three months. The judge stares at me for long, instead of giving my father the chance to explain his side of the story, he goes on to insult him, saying he is a useless man for allowing me to stay back, and how foolish he is to think he is going to eat such a large chunk of money and get his daughter back. The judge finally takes his decision without hearing anything from my father. That is always the case here, once the person you are in court with is more influential than you. My father is asked to refund everything that is spent on the wedding since he wants his daughter back, a paper with all the expenses written is read by the judge. The list includes the chicken eaten during the wedding and the one’s that was sent to my house when he was trying to impress my father, the yams that were used for pounded yam, money for bride price and the one that was sent to be shared to relatives alerting them that I had finally found a suitor, the transport expenses that was spent in conveying my friends, family relatives and me from my father’s house to my husband’s house during the wedding, the money they usually shared to my brothers, sisters and parents anytime they visited, the musicians that were invited, the water we drank in their house during the wedding, money paid to the bridesmaids for everything they asked for. The list was endless, at last, the total is seven hundred and fifty thousand naira, I feel my body go cold, and I am devastated, my father is not a successful farmer, the death of our senior brother had reduced the required manpower on the farm drastically, and he is growing old. My father begs the judge to allow him to talk; the judge intimidates him further by saying he is going to lock him in jail if he utters anything. The judge says I cannot remarry until the money is refunded. My father stands up, looks at the judge directly in the eye, then turn towards my father in law, he hisses and leaves the office, we follow him silently, it is as if I am flowing in the air. My ear is completely blank; the only thing I can hear is the laughter of my father in law and the judge loud in the air